School of Arts and Letters
Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies
AK/HUMA 1780 6.0A Stories in Diverse Media
♦ You will get your essay back on Wednesday or Thursday this week. Distance
Education will return it to you via your yorku email account. Please check this email
for the essay return. They do not have access to any other email (hotmail, gmail,
yahoo, etc.), even if you have used it to communicate with them or me. Your
midterm tests will be returned early next week by the same method.
Variations on a Scream: Two Versions of Frankenstein
So today is comparison day. We will examine two film versions of Frankenstein
from the multitude of adaptations that have occurred since Shelley’s novel was first
printed. We will focus on four important elements that I touched on last day from
Shelley’s novel, although there are many more comparisons one could make: the two
main characters, Victor Frankenstein and the Creature, as well as the creation scene and
that strange phenomenon, the bride of Frankenstein.
First, we need to collect some descriptors for the characters of Victor
Frankenstein and the Creature, strictly from the novel. If you would like to test yourself,
do this on your own and then check my list to see how it compares.
♦ Melodramatic—“Great God!” is his fixed epithet.
¾ But how would you describe his madness? Is he sinister? Evil? Malicious?
I would suggest, no. He seems to be more victimized than spiteful (unlike
He is obsessed almost despite himself, a "good guy" who just does the
wrong thing. This will change in the first film we will view.
♦ Physically strong
♦ At first, good natured, but by the end, vengeful
♦ Is he malevolent?
¾ Again, no. He is much more complicated than that.
This is how Shelley describes the Creature: “his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing,
his teeth of pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast
with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun‐white sockets
in which they were set, his shriveled complexion and straight black lips” (58). That is
about the extent of the description. Shelley leaves the horror of the monster’s looks
largely up to the imagination of the reader. Frankenstein, for example, mentions they
are ghastly but not much more: “I had gazed on him while unfinished; he was ugly then;
but when those muscles and joints were rendered capable of motion, it became a thing
such as even Dante could not have conceived” (59). Dante is famous for his literary
recreation of hell in the epic poem the Divine Comedy, so Frankenstein's allusion here
evokes both the famous poet and Satan (a link I discussed last day) and the attendant
associations of obsession, pride, and impending vengeance. For those who know this
background, Shelley is creating effective atmosphere with her subtle references, but she
is leaving the description of the monster purposefully vague.
This account of the monster’s appearance comes just after the creation scene
that I ended with last day. If you will recall, I talked a bit about how short the novel's
scene is; it is only a paragraph. I also argued that Shelley’s version demonstrates what is
important to her text: the emotional response and the philosophical dilemma behind
science and reproduction. In the first sentence after Frankenstein sparks life into the
being, he asks, “How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate
the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?” (58). 4
Consequently, her creation scene does not glorify the mystery and spectacle of the
science that is supposed to create the being.
Perhaps because of the melodramatic nature of the novel, soon after its
publication, play versions were adapted for the stage. By the early‐twentieth century
the subject was still popular on the stage. The first adaptation for the screen occurred in
1910 with Thomas Edison's silent short film. It is on Youtube, if you would like to view it:
In 1927, Peggy Webling wrote a stage version that Robert Florey and John L.
Balderston then adapted for James Whale to direct in a film version. That movie, called,
what else, Frankenstein, was released 1931. This is the most famous version still. The
movie was made at a time when the first talking movies were just beginning to be made,
which you will probably notice in the production. Much of it seems hokey to us now, but
at the time, this was quite an innovative movie. You can also tell that it is indebted to
the dramatic tradition. Watch the first two minutes or so of this introduction in which a
sort of narrator appears from behind a curtain to introduce the "horror" you are about
to witness (and invoke fear): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn1yH_TaDMQ
(Feel free to watch the whole ten minutes. Note the striking differences from
Shelley's text to spark conversation in the Discussion Rooms, if you like. See Lecture
Summary Slide 2.)
It is James Whale's version of the tale that is responsible for the image that is still
conjured up when someone mentions the name Frankenstein. In our very visually‐
oriented culture, it is as though the filmic image has usurped Shelley's from the novel.